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9 The Strand 191 (February, 1895)
Some Curiosities of Modern Photography. Part II.
By William G. FitzGerald.
That eminent photo-micrographer, Mr. Andrew Pringle, of Bexley, and his brother, Mr. R. Hunter Pringle, were recently employed in an interesting manner by the Royal Commission on Agricultural Depression. These gentlemen toured through the Maldon Division of Essex, taking photographs of land and farms that had gone out of cultivation. They returned with quite a host of pictures showing thistles growing in fields, and ruined farmhouses, which appealed to the Commission far more powerfully than the most eloquent speech would have done.
The camera, as everyone knows, is one of the most indispensable articles in a war correspondent's outfit; and as the battlefield of the future will be comparatively smokeless, the correspondent will be enabled to make still greater use of photography. Mr. Melton Prior states that he can make a sketch in less time than he can take a photograph; yet the last time he was "on the war-path," Mr. Prior carried three cameras in his saddle-bags.
By the way, if the records of the photography of the dead are not cheerful, they abound in interesting detail and even comic incident. About five years ago a well-known Oxford Street photographer was sent for to photograph a woman in her coffin. When the picture was developed, one finger was found to be out of focus. "Now," argued the photographer, "if the body had slipped, the whole would be out of focus; therefore I conclude that only the finger moved." He drove back in a cab with a doctor, and it was then found that the woman was not really dead, but merely in a sort of a trance. This is a fact.
The vagaries of the camera, too, are distinctly amusing. Mr. F. P. Cembrano, of the Royal Photographic Society, shows a photo. of a tiny burn, or brooklet, in Scotland on the banks of which is an equally small village. Yet up this little rill of water is steaming a colossal ironclad of the Royal Sovereign class, with all her mighty guns and fighting towers, and thousands of tons displacement. Another whimsical photo. depicted a castle in Edinburgh, out of the topmost windows of which a number of sheep were placidly gazing.
The amateur photographer who is also an angler is well aware that his camera will back him up when boasting of his piscatorial prowess. One photo. I saw represented a huge fish, the length of which appeared to equal that of a 2ft. rule, which was also shown. In reality the "take" was a little dace or carp; and while being photographed it had been held very close to the lens. The rule, of course, was taken some distance away.
One of my authorities was once engaged by both sides in a law case. A company, whom I will call the City Lands Improvement Company, wanted to abolish a certain court leading from Lombard Street to King William Street, and were willing to establish in its stead a passage through one of their own buildings. The company's plea was that the court was a dingy, not to say dirty, one, and furthermore, that it was haunted by loafers of questionable character.
Counsel for the other side, representing merchants having offices in the court, stoutly maintained that the passage was well lighted and eminently respectable. Photographs were handed in from both sides. The first photo. showed a narrow, disreputable looking alley, strewn with rubbish and fallen hoarding; the other picture, however, showed the court in dispute to be a fairly broad, well-lighted City thoroughfare, frequented by merchants of thriving appearance. These photographs were taken for the House of Lords Committee, but the matter was amicably settled.
Here is another case: The Shuttle Machine Company vacated their premises in Cheapside, and another sewing-machine dealer moved in. In order to trade upon the established reputation of the company, the second tenant left the old name on the windows and over the door, but added the word " Late " in very minute characters for his own protection.
The Shuttle Company waxed wroth, brought an action, and engaged a photographer to take a view of the offending shop-front from a tailor's window opposite. When this photograph was produced in court, it was handed to the presiding judge with a powerful glass, whereupon his lordship was able to perceive that what appeared to the eye to be a mere ornamental dash, was in reality the protecting word "Late." The photographer himself, by the way, was not aware of this. The aggrieved sewing-machine company secured an injunction.
In Fig. 16 we have depicted a submarine explosion on the occasion of the removal of a dangerous rock at Hellgate, New York. Our next reproduction (Fig. 17) shows a tremendous dynamite explosion during the destruction of an old dock wall at Newport, Monmouthshire.
The most interesting law case ever decided by photography was that intrusted to Mr. J. Traill Taylor. The facts were as follows: A collision occurred in New York Harbour between a White Star and a Cunard liner; and when the collision seemed imminent, an amateur photographer on board the latter vessel took a snap-shot of the approaching liner. Both companies put in claims for damages.
First of all, Mr. Taylor procured the dimensions of both steamers; the approximate speed of both at the time the photo. was taken; also the height of the masts. He then retired to a park at Crouch End, armed with compasses and measuring lines, and, subsequently, worked out a little mathematical problem, the vessels being represented by bricks.
After a trip to the Mersey to satisfy himself on a few minor points in the construction of a Cunarder, Mr. Taylor worked out his theory, based upon the fortuitous photograph, before the combined committees of both companies, using books this time to represent the two vessels.
One of the most eminent architects in the kingdom once showed the accompanying photograph (Fig. 18) to a number of his colleagues. Had they ever seen such an exquisitely carved capital? They had not; and they said so. Then arose disputes as to the precise nature of the architecture. Finally sundry big wagers were made, and then the architect gravely proceeded to explain the structure of the column and its capital. This he did by producing his Malacca walking-stick and a few sprigs of succulent brocoli, such as are seen in Fig. 19. "Naturally enough, however, after many abstruse disquisitions on mediæval architecture had been given on the subject of the mysterious pillar, this explanation of the photograph was received in silent disgust.